(BPT) - Have you ever checked in an important piece of luggage for a flight, like a guitar, a stroller or your favorite golf clubs, only to discover it was delayed or lost upon your arrival? You were probably frustrated at the lack of answers you were given and how long you had to wait. Were you able to easily replace it?
Now imagine you use a wheelchair and that it was not only lost or delayed, but damaged beyond repair. How could you even manage it?
You couldn't. Specialized wheelchairs aren't quickly and easily replaceable. They are customized for the people who use them.
Because of a lack of proper stowage and an inability to fly in their personal wheelchair, people with mobility disabilities are often forced to pray, worry or hope for the best outcome upon their arrival. This is just one of many issues that arise for people with disabilities when they travel by air. Others include inaccessible in-flight bathrooms and being dropped, or otherwise injured, in the process of getting on and off the plane.
Air travel takes a toll on equipment that's vital for survival — over 32,000 wheelchairs were damaged, delayed or lost during air travel between 2019 and 2022. That's about 31 wheelchairs per day, or like breaking the legs of up to 31 people every day without no timely support. And broken wheelchairs and scooters can result in the total loss of independence for weeks or months.
Surprisingly, air travel is light years behind all other modes of travel when it comes to accessibility, including buses and trains.
The solution? Congress must include accessible air travel standards in the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization. They need to ensure that the reauthorization includes things like:
If this key language is not implemented, that will mean setting back civil rights for people with disabilities by 35 years. It would also mean more avoidable injuries, more broken chairs and more senseless deaths, like that of Engracia Figueroa, and more disabled veterans being trapped in their homes.
How Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) is fighting for change
If you think this barrier to safe, comfortable air travel doesn't affect many people, think again: over 65 million Americans have a disability, with people aging into disability every day. The number is expected to skyrocket within the next five years. Even worse, many of these disabled people are veterans, who have already sacrificed so much to serve their country.
PVA is leading the fight for accessibility — and air travel accessibility is a major battle.
How you can join PVA's fight
Everyone is in this together, and everyone has a part to play to protect the human rights of veterans and others with disabilities and make air travel more accessible. Contact your member of Congress to ensure that meaningful improvements are included in the FAA reauthorization and use #JustPlaneWrong on social media to continue the conversation.
Visit PVA.org/AirTravel for more information — and to access vital resources and travel tips for you or someone you know with a disability.